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On the House: Just to Summerize: Passive heat sources rob home of comfort

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Posted on: May 30, 2024

By MATT MENKE

Heat, humidity and major thunderstorms are the three biggest challenges for our homes in the summertime. Let’s take a look at some often-overlooked things we can do to put ourselves in control of the elements, rather than being at their mercy.

Even if you love warm weather, the long months of summer can get to be too much of a good : thing for your home. Being comfortable and saving on air conditioning costs are two great reasons to pay attention to how our houses passively heat up. During home inspections, I often see issues that, if unattended to, could rob your family of  comfort and also increase utility bills. I’ll explore four of the most common here and offer suggestions for resolving them.

First up is radiant heat, heat from the sun that warms up your home. You can take relatively simple steps to reduce this heat; one of the easiest is installing insulating curtains or well-fitted cellular blinds on south-facing windows and using them during the day. If you don’t have modern low-E window glass (glass that has a microscopically thin coating that makes your windows more thermally efficient), insulating curtains or blinds can keep a ton of radiant heat out of your home. And consider closing your storm windows, too. You’ll keep that wind-driven rain from pelting the glass, and the layer of air held between the storm and the window is a great insulator.

Second on my list is a common issue that’s easy to address — and inexpensive, too. Remember those cold drafts coming around your doors last winter? Caulking gaps and  weatherstripping doors for summer is a good move because those gaps that let in the chill are now letting in warm, muggy air. And you’ll thank yourself come next winter, when you see those utility bills go down because you’re not losing so much heat.

Third is about your attic, that space that’s easy to overlook. Do you feel heat radiating down from there at night? Poor air circulation up there allows the space to get superheated, which makes your  air conditioner work much harder — and all that heat also shortens the lifespan of your roof. Adding an attic fan to an older, gabled roof can make a big difference. If you’re planning to reroof, consider adding soffits and ridge vents as part of the design. And if you already have soffits, be sure they’re clear of insulation. Amazingly, many installers insulate right over soffits, which leaves the attic starved for fresh air. And adding insulation, up to the modern standard of 16 inches deep, is helpful year round — providing you steer clear of any soffits you may have.

And fourth on my list: dealing with dampness. Humidity is even sneakier than heat in warm weather, creeping into your home 24/7. I see many homes with air conditioning running, and the owners have windows or doors open for the breeze. Even if you don’t mind the high utility costs of trying to have both cooled and fresh air at the same time, keeping your windows cracked invites the humidity in, and it will stay. 

If you insist on feeling a breeze, consider using ceiling fans and shades to keep the cool feeling instead of overworking the a/c. And think about all that humidity you generate when you shower. People often leave windows cracked open or vent fans left running long after they’re done; both of these allow cooled air to escape the house (along with only some of the humidity from that shower). If you do crack a window or run that fan after you shower, be sure to always close up again. You could also consider adding timer switches to your bath vent fans so you can dial them in to stop after they vent the steamy air.

In addition to taking action against passive heat, consider the impact of  big summer rains on your home. Even if you cleaned your gutters last fall, remember the big oak pollen clumps and bird nests that can be up there now. Take a walk outside during a heavy rain and look closely at all your gutters to see if any overflow or leak.  Keep that water away from your foundation using downspout leaders that deliver the water at least eight feet away.

And check for water puddling where those downspout leaders discharge. You may have low spots where adding clay soil will improve the grading enough to direct water away more fully.  Remember, mosquitoes love it when you forget to summerize.

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